SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
This Sunday’s lectionary invites us to reflect on the mystery of the Church that overflows with the paschal mystery of Christ, called to live in constant creative fidelity through history (first reading), guided by the Spirit that dwells in every believer making the Word of Jesus alive and efficacious (gospel) and sustained by the hope of reaching the plenitude of communion with God in the celestial Jerusalem (second reading).
The first reading (Acts 15:1-2.22-29) offers us an important document of the primitive Church. This treats of the letter destined to the communities of Antioch and Syria on the part of the Church of Jerusalem, that states the resolutions of a type of celebrated council in that city in relation with the problem of the Mosaic Law’s obligation for the converts from paganism. The text witnesses to the difficulties that the first Christians already experienced to remain faithful to the gospel of Jesus as to the challenges of reality. The problem is not one of the admission of the pagans into the Christian community, a question that had already been resolved in that moment, but rather to decide if these new Christians that did not come from Judaism were obligated to be circumcised and to complete the Law of Moses. The 1st verse presents us with a synthesis of the problematic situation that had come about in Antioch: “Some men came down from Judea and taught the brothers, ‘Unless you have yourselves circumcised in the tradition of Moses you cannot be saved.’”
Circumcision had come to be a distinctive fundamental sign of belonging to the people of God, and therefore its acceptance gave the possibility to take part in the Covenant, with all of its privileges and obligations (the welcoming of the Torah, for example). To ask circumcision of the non-Jews converted to Christianity could reveal a certain good intention of making them full members of Israel and not just second class Christians. In any case, the problem was very strong in the primitive Church in the theological and pastoral ambiance (cf. Gal 2,4-5). The most profound meaning of salvation obtained only by faith in Christ was in the balance. For the mother Church of Jerusalem this item was decided with clarity after having passed through long deliberations and discussion. Peter’s affirmation was categorical during the debate: “But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will (the converted pagans)” (Acts 15:11); “and he made no distinction between us and them” (Acts 15,9).
From here the letter emerges from the meeting of Jerusalem, in which there are some important elements that are worth underlining: (1) It is a letter that is sent by the apostles and presbyters of Jerusalem to the “brothers” of Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. The fraternal relationship among the diverse churches is underlined as a fundamental element of ecclesial communion. (2) It is a decision made “by the Holy Spirit and us.” The Spirit inspires the decisions of ecclesial authority made in communion with the whole Church. This does not mean to say that apostolic authority disposes the Spirit, but rather it does not decide by itself without submitting itself to the divine will. (3) The Church decides to not impose on the converted Gentiles the yoke of the Law, rather only that which is necessary, not for salvation, bur rather for a healthy living together and a mutual respect among Judeo-Christians and pagan-Christians. To these last, the minimum is asked to maintain a relationship of respect and of charity with the Christians that come from Judaism: not to have any contact with idolatry and to abstain from disordered sexual behaviors (Acts 15,28-29). (4) The Church of Jerusalem affirms, on one hand, the universality and gratitude of Christian salvation; on the other hand, adapts itself to the socio-religious reality it her time and to the pastoral needs that the existence of a large group of Judeo-Christians imposed.
The second reading (Rev 21,10-14.22-23) describes the eschatological reality of the Church, the “new Jerusalem”. The city is described in all of its details. Surrounded by the glory of God appears “radiant in glory” (v. 11a), as the most luminous reality of the universe. It is made of precious stones, which reveals its strong attractiveness and immense value (V. 11b.18-20). Its high wall has “twelve gates” with twelve angels, that is an evocation of the people of the old covenant, and stood on twelve foundation “stones”, “each one of which bore the name of one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb”, a clear symbolic allusion to the community of the new covenant, the new faithful Israel. The gates open toward all cardinal points (v. 13) indicating the universality of salvation offered by God in history. In this heavenly city now there is no need of the “Temple,” the place of the presence (in Hebrew: shekinah) of God, thus “the Lord God Almighty and the Lam were themselves the temple” (V. 22). God himself is the Temple in a full and total communion between the Savior and humanity. And all is “light”. “The city did not need the sun or the moon for light, since it was lit by the radiant glory of God and the Lamb was a lighted torch for it” (V. 23). Glory is the typical symbol of the present and transcendent divinity. The light-glory invades all with the force of life and of love that overflows from God and his Christ.
The gospel (Jn 14,23-29) belongs to the farewell discourses of Jesus that John places in the 13-17 chapters of his gospel. In the text three themes are fundamentally developed: (1) The presence of God in the believer. In the fourth gospel, love is not only an objective reality on which conduct is modeled, a type of ethical principle, but rather is above all an interior reality placed by God in the believer (Jn 5,42; 17,26; 1 Jn 2,5.15b; 3,1.17; 4.7). For love, as for the Word of Jesus, the formula of typical reciprocity of the interpersonal relation of the covenant with God is used: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4,16). Love, concretized in the communion with the Word of Jesus, is the condition and expression of divine permanency in the interior of the believer: “If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14,23). Each believer that practices faith in love becomes an authentic tabernacle of the divine presence. (2) The Spirit Counselor (Paraclete). In the gospel of John the Spirit is designated as the “Spirit of Truth” and “Paraclete”. The expression “Spirit of Truth” (Jn 14,17; 15,26; 16,13) places the Spirit in a direct relationship with the Truth of Jesus, that is, with the revelation that the only Son makes of the Father (Jn 1,18). The Truth of the Father revealed by Jesus – the Truth that is Jesus – can only be interiorized and actualized in us by work of the Spirit of Truth (Jn 16,13). The term “Paraclete” (Jn 14,16.26; 15,26; 16,7), in turn, taken from the juridical world, expresses the idea of assistance, help and defense. Dwells in the disciples (Jn 14,16) and serves them as guide toward the complete truth (Jn 16,13). “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you” (Jn 14,26), that is, only the Spirit will be able to make the Word of Jesus efficacious and actual in every historical situation.
(3) The gift of the peace of Jesus. John has placed in the context immediately proceeding the passion the gift of peace that Jesus concedes to his own. A peace that Jesus is living, according to the context of the fourth gospel, precisely in the moment of greatest opposition and suffering, a little before the passion. How is it possible that Jesus speaks of peace in a moment of interior disturbance (Jn 12,27)? Peace in its biblical meaning is a gift of God that contains in itself all possible goods. Jesus confronts the moment of contradiction and of death in peace because he is free and conscious of the decision he has made (Jn 10,18: “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord”), because he lives his pain as a sacrifice in favor of others (Jn 10,10: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”), and above all because he obeys the Father (Jn 14,31: “but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father”). Three conditions to obtain true peace, “a peace not as the world gives” (Jn 14,27): clear conscience and personal liberty in our decisions, sense of solidarity in favor of others and unconditional obedience to God’s designs.